By Ye Olde Valour
ALL human being in the world, when they are born, the first thing that they make their parents happy is when they say the first word. Most mothers throughout generations would reach the merriest moment of their life when the little child utters the word ‘ma’ which is normally accepted as ‘mother’ in any universal language. So it is to the rest of the cultures in the world let it be the American, European, Arabs, Asians & Orientals or the Africans. From the beginning of the first word that was composed by that little child the parents, especially the mothers begins her greatest task on grooming her child with words to refer to many things surrounding the little child. Most obvious ones after herself (mother) would be the word ‘father’, ‘grandfather’, ‘grandmother’, ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’. After the child reaches the age of three or more, the elders begin to teach on how to refer to others especially those older than the child, those the same age, and those younger. At the age of seven and above that particular child knows who is who, what are they to her/him and how are they related and what are the ties to the family. From then on begins the legacy of her/his own world of people (family, friends and relatives) in their own life till they have their own children until they answer the call of ‘Allah’ s.w.t and return to HIM. Years after years, decades after decades, centuries after centuries even millenniums has and will past by, and words of mouth will continue generations to generations on cultures of our own especially when it comes to titles of family members and in fact to a certain extent the rights, roles and responsibilities of each one of them to each individuals.
Just like any other culture in the world we Malayalees in general, especially Malaysian Malabari in particular, have our own titles to refer to members of the family as well as to older people in public and perhaps even to any general people in the public that does not have blood ties to us. Perhaps we could say that due to our common values of Malayalee culture, the way we refer to our father, mother, sister and brother, or even uncles and aunties could be similar. Yet being Muslim (Malaysian Malabari) we could / might have our own terms in distinguishing Muslim titles and non-Muslim titles. As time of writting, I personally have to be honest that I am someone who lack of knowledge on titles in malabari terms. This is simply due to many reasons and like others too, it is the diversity in our country. Mix marriages (new cultures begin to be embedded in ones life), local surroundings (neighbours and village community), as well as the introvert qualities in certain family that does not mix with other of the same race, adds to this fact. On the other hand, certain families are too extrovert, when exposed to new values and cultures along the way, seem to ignore their own. For some who are educated, especially those who are English orientated (elites) may feel that practicing cultural norms is backward and not progressing. These are all negative contributing factors to the lost of identity of culture especially the titles in Malabari family. I feel that these problems need readdressing in a proper manner so that our Malaysian Malabari community would be very progressive in every field and yet contained with our identity and culture so that we could be proud of it.
As an integral part of the Far-eastern society, Southeast Asian by region, Malaysian by national identity and Malabari as our ethnic origin, we espouse to values that respect elders, harmonious relation with relatives, friendly to neighbours and courteous to visitors. Hence in a society of such we practice tolerance and good mannerism in our everyday life. For this not to fade away, we could not think of a better place to start other than our own homes. There is nothing great like teaching our own children about a civic mind and everything comes along with it. My suggestion as part of the basic fundamentals, would be inculcating the terms, the correct terms referring family members and other, according to their roles and responsibility that inherits the titles. It has to start from this simple idea, so that in years to come we could think of ways how to educate our children with Malayalam language, Arab-Malayalam, the norms of our cultures and traditions. It is very hard to change our youngsters overnight. Yet taking it slowly but surely, this kind of approach will give us a good result perhaps not in our lifetime but for the generations to come in the future.
My main ambition is to create awareness among us, the Malabari community, the important of this ‘titles’ and ‘names’ according to our culture and norms. For an example, we could see the Malay culture, where besides what we already know, they have names like ‘pak su’, ‘mak su’, ‘pak ngah’, ‘mak ngah’ and so many others referring to each people respectively in ones family. The Indian culture in general and Indian Muslim in particular, have titles like ‘periya mama’ (mother’s older brother), ‘chinna mama’ (mother’s younger brother), ‘periya amma’ (mother’s older sister), ‘chinna amma’ (mother’s younger sister). So is for a child’s father side- ‘periya appa’ & ‘chittapa’ (fathers brothers respectively) and ‘mamie’ (any father’s sisters). This could go on for the rest in the family tree. By chance, I happen to realise that the title ‘atta’ in Indian Muslim family goes way back to the Ottoman Empires influence where it means ‘father’. ‘Mustafa Kamal Attaturk’ literally means Mustafa Kamal the ‘Father of Turk. He was given that title when he brought modernisation to Turkey. Here, we could see how the word ‘atta’ is being used back then then in Turkey, it is still being used by children calling they father in Indian Muslim community in particular in Malaysia.
A close friend who is half malabari, refers to his mother ‘amma’ (just like in tamil) and ‘bapa’ or at times ‘vapa’ towards his father. Actually, it was his mother who is a pure malabari and his father was Tamil Muslim. This happened because his family was surrounded my many Tamil Muslims rather than Malabari community, then in the 70s, there was no initiatives like the Persatuan Malabari Malaysia or even a Malabari network like E-Malabari on a national level, for any of us to refer to. All his life, besides Malay & English, he was very much Tamil oriented and had no further knowledge of ‘Malabari’ except that it had something to do with his mother side of family. The only prove or identity he ever had was he and his siblings referring to their mother’s sister (aunty) and her husband (uncle) who are their godmother and godfather as ‘Kunjima’ & ‘Yellapa’ respectively. He has even been criticised by others saying that the word ‘Kunjima’ mean his stepmother (father’s second wife) and so on. He could not be bothered, simply because his mother thought him with full passion and love hoping a small Malabari identity will never fade away. After so many years now he realised that only he and his siblings call their aunty and uncle that way and the rest of his cousins call every one either ‘uncle and aunty’ or ‘pak cik or mak cik’, which to him, is a shame. The other title that still exists in his family is his mother’s younger brothers who call his aunt’s husband (his godfather) as ‘Elliya’.
This is simply because his mother was the older generation and had some hands on knowledge from her parents. When it comes to his uncles who are just a decade age older than him, they do not know much of our culture and tradition even though all of them are well educated and successful in their life. He often wondered what would happen to his cousins, he seems to have one new in his list every year. They are all mostly English and Malay oriented. His question that often saddens me is what would ever happen to them when they have they own children one day.
Well, looking his own family account as an example, I am very sure that many readers would agree that, not only his family but there are perhaps thousands of fellows Malabari in Malaysia with similar situations and experience. Perhaps there could be even worst cases, like those who married to other race or never came back to their community due to family disputes and so on.
One good example would be when another Malabari friend of mine tracked down his grand uncle (his mother’s mother’s older brother) who married to a non-Muslim. At the age of 70 plus today, he is no longer a Muslim and so is his children. None of them knows where their father came from or any identity of such. Now that is very sad, my friend could not afford to do anything but to leave him after the historical meeting just to realise that he might not meet his grand uncle again. With enormous grief and disappointment in his heart, he said he would carry that feeling with him to his grave. On a positive part of his life, it was an extraordinary occasion when his mother’s long lost cousin tracked them down for few months and finally found them. That was when, he knew the actual meaning of Malabari and what are they about. After several exchange of family visits on both sides, he got to know that there is more to it he knew about uncles and aunties, family occasion and functions according to our Malabari tradition.
I am sure there are many of you would have read other articles in this website regarding how Hari Raya Aidil Firti is celebrated by our Malabari as well as our circumcisions (Khatan) is carried out within our culture and tradition. We can see that how certain person in a family has their own role in an occasion. For example in Hari Raya, elders are approached by the youngsters to ask for forgiveness and in circumcision how the uncle plays a role in the boy occasion. Not only that we also often hear about how the uncle (bride’s mother’s brother) participate in a marriage discussion among two family, their gift for they niece and other traditional custom according to Malabari culture within Islamic principles. So it is very important that we acknowledge this role and educate out new generation so that it would not fade away through time and development. There is also need to pay attention to women’s role in these occasions and how they contribute to the well being of their nephews and nieces.
It is also important to pay attention on what is called the ‘global trend’. Global trend today has becomes so universally acceptable that in most cases, tradition and customs becomes a virtue to be displayed in museums, as a subject to be studied and no longer a everyday life routine. Just like how these days men wears pant and shirt regardless of nationality. Today we live in the world were only colour of skin is different but the rest is the same. In this light, it is important to see how the western culture is toward family ties and how it would affect our community in another 50 years or so in the future. In the West, they only meet during Christmas holidays and New Year. Once a child is above 16, he normally calls his uncle and aunty by their first name. Daughter/son in laws also call their father/mother in law by name. No one has any right to say or correct their children or their nephews/nieces. The culture of choosing life partner in western world has gone beyond control. If a child comes home and say he is a gay and choose homosexuality as his sexual preference, the parents or the elders in the family has no say. Their stand is in fact it is protected by their common law of justice. In universities, besides having Islamic Society on one side, they also have societies that help to gather homosexuals and cater advice on how they should and could reveal their sexuality to their parents, even to extend of protecting them by giving advice on legal aids.
Several months ago in mid last year we also witness the hostility of certain group in Malaysia’s media on how many Malaysian boys who attend higher education turning in to gay lifestyle. It is very destructive by every mean if a family outcasts and disowns or physically abuses this type of people. We, actually according to Islam should teach them and guide them from an early age. To get angry and abuse them once we realise that our children has gone on the wrong path in fact a sign that we as parents have failed in our duty.
Gandhi has once said ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’. What one may do is wrong and we should hate it like how we disregard evil, yet we should not hate the human being that commits it as he is no different from us. They can be loved, guided and shown the correct way. Rehabilitation, reconciliation, prevention and deterrence need to take place in our society. We need to educate our society in every possible way in a positive and constructive manner according to our good values and norms of our culture within the specification of Islamic principles.
Here, it is very vital, for the elders to come up and give their knowledge and experience in educating our generation and to Malabari society especially. Our children need to grow in an environment where they get to see how their elders grow, what their roles are in a family, community and country. Our girls and boys need to learn how they elders have been successful in creating a good society, so that these youngster would take up these roles in the future and they too can educate and pass it on to the next generation. As mentioned above, it is horribly nasty and unproductive to change our boys and girls overnight So, for a start, we could make emphasis on learning on names, titles and role of family members and relative, male and female and how they contribute to the well being of our society. For those who are in the mid-ages (30 – 50) they should try their level best to create more activity in our community with cultural and traditional element as part of the occasion. For this thumbs up and great honour of congratulations to those involved in organising our recent event of circumcision (berkhatan) for boys in our ‘Masjid Malabar Hidayatul Islam’ of our own in Selayang. Events like ‘nasyids’, or ‘Mapilla’ song in wedding need to be given a new life and revived in our society. Male actors and leading figure in our society need to participate, engage and guide our younger boys, so is to all the women, your life is never destined in the kitchen but even more than a man’s role in the world. You bore us, you could teach us, guide us, what is right and wrong.
Hence, I call upon every Malaysian Malabari male and female with vast knowledge on Malabari values and norms especially on family ties, names and titles, for the benefit of all us here and the generation to come in the future, to contribute to this discussion with your valuable and priceless feedbacks.